Maine Gov Clashes With Attorney General Over Pay Increases, AG's Role
AUGUSTA, Maine - Maine Gov. Paul LePage and Attorney General Janet Mills just don't see eye-to-eye on the role of the AG's office in representing the governor and other parts of the executive branch of government. The dispute has become quite vocal, as both Mills and LePage seem willing to make their feelings known.
The issue that brought the dispute into public view has been Gov. LePage’s refusal to sign a financial order to implement cost-of-living pay increases for the staff in the Attorney General’s office. But the governor, a Republican, says the real issue is that Attorney General Mills, a Democrat, is not representing the executive branch appropriately.
"I read the Constitution several times; it does not say she can pick and choose where she will defend us and where she will fight us, where she will be the prosecutor," LePage says. "And she is doing both, and until we have an understanding of what her job is, we are going to be where we are."
Mills, however, says hers is an independent office created in the state Constitution, as is the governor's office. She says her decisions are not based on politics, but on the law.
"When we, as a professional matter, deign that the position taken by the administration does not have legal merit, lacks legal merit, then I am free under the Constitution and common law to draw a line," Mills says. "And that I have done in only two matters."
Those two matters involved a legal dispute over General Assistance, and a lawsuit over one of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. But LePage says Mills should provide more details about how her office spends its appropriations.
"She is not providing legal services for the executive branch; I don’t know where their money is being spent," LePage says. "She needs to give me an accounting of where she is spending the money."
The governor expressed surprise when told that Mill’s office is representing the state on many matters, including the dispute with federal officials over Medicaid payments to the Riverview psychiatric hospital.
"They are? Well, it’s about time they do something right," he said.
"I am dumbfounded if he is really that ignorant of what we do," Mills said. "I have offered to give him a tour of the office and that invitation still stands. I don’t think he understands what this office does."
Mills says the lawyers in her office are representing dozens of state agencies that are part of the executive branch in both state and federal courts. She says those lawyers deserve to get the cost-of-living pay increases that were part of the supplemental budget passed earlier this year over LePage’s veto.
"This doesn’t affect me personally," Mills says. "It’s not about my salary, it's set by the Legislative Council. It affects everybody else in the office, however. It affects those people who are trying to protect the public safety, and children and families of this state, prosecuting Medicaid fraud, helping consumers against fraud, fight fraud."
It is not that unusual for Attorneys General to disagree with a governor, even when they are members of the same party. Early in the LePage administration, Republican Attorney General William Schneider, now a judge, issued an opinion that said that LePage’s commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, Darryl Brown, was not qualified to hold that office. LePage had argued that Brown was qualified, but Brown resigned.
Mills says in the case of the salary increases for staff in her office, LePage is refusing to follow state budget law, and the pay hikes that were approved by lawmakers.